The Icing on the Cake

Feature in Issue 5-1 | Spring 1993

Marah Winn-Moon from the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts outlines some of the things to look out for when thinking about Sponsorship.

It is glaringly apparent that examples of Mime and Physical Theatre companies finding sponsorship are few and far between. Trestle Theatre Company has been sponsored by Turner Kenneth Brown the solicitors, and has won an award under the Government’s Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme. This sponsorship has given Turner Kenneth Brown a modern avant garde image in a business not known for innovation. Trestle’s example should be followed.

The roots of sponsorship can be traced all the way back to the Athenian Festival of Dionysus in Ancient Greece, where patrons would lend their support to the production of plays. They would pay for costumes, music and actors, while the state supported the festivals and subsidised ticket prices. Patrons would naturally be seen as ‘community-minded’ and there was the added bonus that if they had supported the winning play they would receive tax breaks for one year.

Obviously things have changed considerably since the days of Ancient Greece, but the idea of private support for the arts is in evidence more than ever. In 1976 business sponsorship of the arts was estimated at £600,000. In a recent survey published by the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts (ABSA) business support was calculated to be £65.5 million in the year 1991/92. This is a dramatic increase since the 70s and reflects the changes in business attitudes to the concept of sponsorship

Sponsorship used to be seen as a purely philanthropic gesture, based often on the whim of a Chairman. However, businesses are now more aware of how vital a role sponsorship can play in an overall marketing mix. It can sit alongside advertising and promotions, enhancing the corporate message, and often reaching new audiences. The main reasons businesses sponsor are:

- Corporate image
- Product placement
- Corporate entertainment
- Employee relations
- Association with excellence
- Access to target audiences
- Community relations

Arts groups are well advised to research companies before they approach them for sponsorship. Any proposal should be tailored to meet the needs of the business to whom it is sent, and should describe specific benefits for that company’s particular objectives. ABSA produces a range of specialist publications for arts groups outlining exactly how to go about putting together a proposal, tax implications, guidelines on good practice, etc. These can be obtained from any of the ABSA offices, and are most economically obtained by joining ABSA’s Mailing List.

In 1984 the Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme (BSIS) was launched. This scheme is run by ABSA on behalf of the Department for National Heritage and acts as an incentive to business either to sponsor the arts for the first time or to increase their commitment to the arts. The Scheme offers both Government endorsement and financial support, which is paid to the arts organisation to be used to provide extra benefits for the sponsor, while being mutually beneficial to both parties. A BSIS award offers an arts organisation between £1000 and £50,000 of extra money, which must be used in part to enhance the sponsorship, i.e. the extension of a tour/advertising. BSIS will match pound for pound any money gained from a business that has never sponsored the arts before. ABSA’s 1990/91 survey of 620 arts organisations showed that 94% of businesses involved were first-time sponsors. Plural funding is the future for the Arts, and this scheme shows how successfully Government and the private sector can work together. Since the scheme began £59 million in new money has been generated for the arts – £39.7 million in business sponsorship, to which the Government has added £19.3 million.

There are other ways in which businesses can support the arts, apart from sponsorship. Business in the Arts is an ABSA initiative which has grown considerably over the last few years. It has two main thrusts, the Placement Scheme and Training Bursaries. The Placement Scheme involves sending high flying business people on a part-time voluntary basis into arts groups to advise on specific projects. For example a Manager from the Accountants, Coopers & Lybrand, has been helping Circus Space (London’s centre for Circus Arts providing practice, training, rehearsal and performance facilities) to produce a three-year business plan to oversee the company’s move to a new site in 1994. The Head of Communications from Wolff Olins has been working with Molecule Theatre (Theatre of Science for Children) to undertake a marketing review. The objectives are to raise the profile of the organisation and be more effective in their targeting. This kind of ‘support’ lays stable foundations for the future of arts groups and also plays a role in developing the skills of the business advisor.

In this rather bleak economic climate, businesses are acutely aware that now is the time to be in the public eye more than ever, and sponsorship is increasingly seen as a highly effective way of raising their profile. ABSA advocates sponsorship as a supplement to, not a substitute for, public funding – the icing on the cake… Long may such partnerships flourish.

Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts (ABSA) is the national independent organisation which promotes and encourages partnerships between the private sector and the arts to their mutual benefit and that of the community at large.

This article in the magazine

Issue 5-1
p. 7